Complementarianism: is it biblical? A study of 1 Corinthians 11 – Part 2
In the last article, we were studying in Genesis 1 and 2 to see how the Lord God Almighty set up and defined marriage between a woman and a man or a man and a woman. In this article, Part 2, we will be examining Scripture from 1 Corinthians 11:2-3, (but also including verses 4-16 for the full treatment), as these Scriptures were listed at the bottom of Gavin Peacock’s article. When dealing with words in the Scriptures, the student must first acquaint themselves with the words and how they were understood in the day that they were spoken. Too often, verses of Scripture are lifted out of their context in order to establish a point that was never intended by the author of the epistle. Plus, there are instances of cultural issues that the author is addressing within the letter that are not relevant to our day and time. In those cases, the heart of the prohibition should be established and then the central idea can be applied to our day.
In the case of 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, it is addressing the cultural issue of head coverings. Furthermore, looking to the last chapter of 10:1-14, which deals with Israel’s tendencies to fall into idolatrous practices; Paul addresses both Jew and Gentile Christian believers, especially those that were former pagans, who shopped for their meat supplies in the ‘shambles,’ which contained meats first offered to idols and then were thrown out. This meat was collected and sold at greatly reduced prices. Paul allows for this meat to be bought and eaten as long as they basically do not practice the pagan rites that went along with the meat. So in v. 25, Paul instructs them to go ahead and eat the meat sold in the shambles, yet just do not ask any questions about its history. So we are dealing with the cultural issues of Corinth. In v. 32, Paul once again instructs the believers to
1 Cor 10:32-11:1
Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God. Even as I please all men in all things, not seeking mine own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved. Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.
Then in v. 33 Paul is basically saying that (without sin) he accommodates other people in order that he might save them; then in 11:1 instructs the Corinthians to be followers of him just as he follows Christ. So this then sets the stage for the following verses in which Paul lays out what seemingly looks like a prescriptive command that women should be veiled. However, according to James B. Hurley, “women in ancient Judaism and in the Greco-Roman culture were generally not veiled in public–the shawl/face veil for women came into Near Eastern custom later through Islam…Men and women were given a cooperative social mandate in creation; women’s role was restricted only religiously in Israel*”
Whether there was a specific sect that was present in Corinth that required veiling or as some have suggested that gnostic influences had perhaps penetrated the church community and were bringing disruption into the church. Further, Paul is answering the question that was sent to him and so verses 2-15 elaborate upon this fact and Paul lays out his reasons, making reference to Genesis 2 that woman came from man, etc. This brings to mind that the religious cults were dominated by women, such as worshipping Bacchus, and if certain adherents had come into the Christian community bringing disruption concerning the order of creation, i.e. women being the first created, this would then explain why Paul brings up Genesis 2, to establish truth among the believers. However, in v.11 he clearly shows his liberationist perspective by clearly announcing that while woman came from man, God had created their spirits at the same time, thereby showing their equality before God (see Genesis 1:26-27).
1 Corinthians 11:8-11
For the man is not of the woman: but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God.
It was only the woman’s body that came from man, probably with God taking some of Adam’s DNA and thus forming her body. Her soul was unique to her own self, having received it after God blew her own spirit into her body, thus was her soul made. Further, with Paul answering the Corinthians’ questions regarding the veiling of women, we come to verse 16, which almost always is never addressed by those who are trying to affirm their patriarchal or complementarian views regarding the subordination of women to men. Quite clearly, Paul states
1 Corinthians 11:16
But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.
Therefore, if any of the Corinthian believers were going to still be argumentative about this subject, Paul declares, WE HAVE NO SUCH CUSTOM, NEITHER THE CHURCHES OF GOD. This writer understands the WE to be a reference to Israel and then Paul includes the other churches of God who also do not have the practice or custom of veiling women for worship. Why? Because Paul affirms that women have already been given a permanent covering, namely, their hair.
Basically, Paul was addressing their internal quarrels and squabbling about who was right, and since most commentators do not believe that Greco-Roman women practiced veiling, one can only surmise that perhaps this had come into their community from an external source such as Gnostic beliefs that were assailing the community. The portion concerning the creation reflects Paul’s teaching to Timothy in Ephesus, which was also dealing with Gnostic infiltration into their churches. This writer does not believe that Paul was attempting to establish or re-establish patriarchal views, because other letters affirm and further the ideas first established by the Lord Jesus Christ that women were to now be on the same par as the men. They were to be allowed to learn right along with the men, and when finally established in the doctrine, they were being allowed to teach and to preach, thus showing that the Lord Jesus Christ had re-established at least that portion of Eden back to mankind, that men and women were created by God to be fully equal with each other.
Therefore, those who practice complementarianism are still trying to live under the sinful regime of patriarchalism which had its beginnings after the first couple had been expelled from the Garden. So with the purchased redemption paid for by Christ, why indeed would anyone want to go back to the former repressive lifestyle first perpetrated by sinful men? It does make one wonder.
*Excerpt taken from “Slavery, Sabbath, War & Women” by Willard M. Swartley